Democrats & Liberals Archives

Growth is a False Goal

One of the goals President Bush gave his tax-reform commission is that its recommendations should “encourage growth.” I think he said this to support the commission’s probable recommendation of some form of tax-free investment. Investments spur “growth” and since everybody thinks “growth” is good, then tax-free investments are economic candy. I am here to claim, however, that the goal of our economy should not be “growth,” which polarizes and militarizes our society, but “prosperity for all,” which would unite and harmonize our society.

"Growth" has been a buzzword, used by both Republicans and Democrats for so long that we think it is as American as "apple pie." However, "apple pie" is almost always sweet and good, while "growth" sometimes produces terrible results, especially for people not on top of the totem pole.

Let's take a look at what a policy of seeking higher and higher growth rates means. Among other things, concentration on growth leads to worrying about efficiency and to the burgeoning of huge corporations.

Efficiency - getting more out of a system by putting in less - how can anybody be against it? I can, if efficiency takes preference to the needs of people. And too often, it does.

One way to achieve efficiency is to improve productivity. Supposedly, productivity measures how much work output can be achieved by workers in a company. When we improve productivity, fewer workers are needed to accomplish a given task. Stated differently, the greater the productivity, and so the efficiency, the fewer workers are needed by the company. Therefore, from the company's viewpoint, laying off workers is a good thing. But the employees don't think so.

Here are a few unwholesome results from our fetish on efficiency:

  • Reduction in wages - the less you pay workers, the more efficient you are
  • Temporary and part time - keep the workers worried so they won't ask for more pay
  • Reduction in health and pension benefits - these costs reduce efficiency too much
  • Destruction of unions - they would only try to increase wages and benefits; they must be stopped
  • Outsourcing of labor - foreign labor is cheaper; why pay more for the same commodity?
  • Destruction of environment - we don't want to do this, but keeping the environment healthy costs money. No efficient outfit would do a thing like this
The other angle about growth is that corporations tend to get larger and larger. When there is too much competition, a couple of the large corporations merge into a super-corporation. Later two super-corporations merge into a mega-corporation. These corporations always say they are merging to become more competitive. Nonsense. They are merging for 2 big reasons: money and power for the guys on top.

Often after a merger, the new monstrous corporation lays off people - to increase efficiency, remember? - and as a result profits go up, and of course, the big cheese gets rewarded with a rich variety of money instruments.

Haven't you ever wondered why a guy who is a billionaire wants to make more money. The answer is simple: he wants power. He is the lord over the serfs who work for him. He contributes some money to politicians and he becomes the lord over the rest of us who are not working for him. What power!

Here are a few unwholesome results of allowing the growth of monstrous corporations with radical power:

  • Corruption of our politics - huge corporations pay for the laws they want
  • Extremes of rich and poor - CEOs cut wages for workers and increase their own compensation
  • Conflict and aggression - inequalities always have this effect
  • Political polarization - the worldview of those on top and those on bottom are bound to be different
I'm not saying growth is always bad. I'm saying that growth should not be our primary goal. Growth favors business, especially big business, at the expense of the little guy. Our primary goal should be "prosperity for all." "All" means everybody, both business people and workers, skilled and unskilled, of all races and in all parts of the country. Under this rubric, high wages are benefits, not flaws; a healthy environment is an unadulterated good, not an "externality"; a decent healthcare system is an advance, not a problem.

With fewer extremes life in the U.S. would be less toxic, more livable and more enjoyable for all.

Growth is a false goal. A far better goal for the U.S. is


Please don't pin labels on me. Comment on my ideas

Posted by Paul Siegel at June 20, 2005 6:32 PM